ETL507 – Study Visit reflection

Study Visit: Melbourne CBD 4-7 April

The State Library of Victoria

The mandate of the library to preserve, give access to and to share Victoria’s history and historical items was very clear.

The re-development of the site is already affecting how staff are working in the space, and it was stated that the changes will mean that more staff are working in open plan offices and on the floor more openly. The use of space will mean that there are more dedicated areas for different segments of society, more areas for children, public venue spaces, and gallery spaces. I think this reflects how the library is responding to changes in its patrons needs and adapting to entice more visitors both onsite and digitally.

It was so interesting to hear from the marketing and media team members and to hear first hand how social media channels are supporting and enhancing the delivery and discovery of the library collections. This form of connection with the community is relating to different audiences in new ways, and promotes the library brand, its programs and messages very effectively. This is a reminder in our own practice that we can make huge changes and connect with our audience, even on a low budget, if social media is harnessed in a positive way.

I was not aware that the library is not allowed to weed the collection, that there is a legal requirement and strict protocols to follow to keep items in the collection ongoing. The issue of storage and how to store the collections, and the obvious need to be very careful what is selected into the collection was apparent. The importance of a strong collection development policy cannot be overstated.

The AGE (Broadmeadows) Library

This library is a public library run by the Hume Council, and is such subject to pressures and constraints of being overseen by a body that does not necessarily understand the importance or role of the library in the community. Examples were given such as the mobile library service, that it is difficult to make changes to programs unilaterally, without council approval and process. The importance of keeping good statistics and using benchmarks from similar libraries in the state to advocate for services, funding and maintenance of programs was evident.

This library responds to the need of its diverse community in various ways. Patrons typically come from low socio-economic backgrounds, are migrants, have English as a new language and may not have literacy in their first language. The library has reinstated a Children’s Librarian to administer programs for parents and young children and to entice new mothers in to the library. There are collections in Arabic and Turkish for migrants, a range of programs for youth, the elderly, learning support for students, maker spaces, outreach programs amongst other targeted services including dedicated community spaces.

This library supports its community in simple but important ways by providing equitable access to technology, Wi-Fi and equipment, safe spaces, printers, photocopying, all with assistance. It is important to keep in mind that although borrowing may be not strong the library is an important space in other ways for patrons.

This library is an example of delivering a broad service to a large range of people, but perhaps doing too much on too little. It relies on volunteers (bilingual) and the ability of staff to adapt to change, up skill and be spread thin to continue to keep delivering services. It is an important hub in the community, which perhaps is not always valued by governing bodies, who find it hard to measure its importance without hard data.

MLC (Methodist Ladies College) Senior School Library

This visit was inspiring. I was very interested in the process that MLC went through to make radical changes to the physical and digital environments and how staff are facilitating connections with departments and teaching staff throughout the school to implement digital literacy programs and collaborative teaching and support. Staff took considerable time to collect data and used research to inform decisions. Considerable effort is being made to structurally embed the library and its services into the curriculum. This process is only possible with strong support from management, which was very evident during the visit.

The transformation of the physical space was particularly interesting. The downstairs space has curved shelving, with the non-fiction print genrefied. The study spaces had varied furniture, which was all flexible and easily moved around, to encourage different study styles – collaborative and individual – and technology to facilitate presentation, collaboration and critical thinking. The library staff relayed that feedback from students was positive and there was evidence that students were becoming more independent in their learning and were performing better in groups as a result of the changes.

The space was definitely welcoming and innovative. The focus of the space was the students, how they learn best and what skills should be developed, how can the design and planning of the space create an environment for everyone (including staff) to be always learning, adapting, curious and connected.

It was obvious that an enormous amount of money has been spent on the library transformation to a 21st century space. The actual amount spent and the library yearly budget was not divulged, but it is an example of what money can deliver for students. The gap between this and what many teacher librarians have at their disposal in terms of budget is huge, and left me a bit flat and envious, as most students will not have the opportunity to have those facilities and programs at any time in their schooling.

As I work in a library that is currently transitioning, I found it useful to see the possibilities, and consider a more research driven process for change management.

Public Records Office of Victoria (PROV)

The function of the Public Records Office is to keep (state and local) government records of enduring value and importance. The records show on public record the state’s interactions with its citizens over time.

Not having any experience with archives, the way the collection is stored and categorised was new to me. Records are kept in their original system and organised by the Australian Series System. This is based on the archival principles of provenance and original order. This means that the PROV cannot disturb the system in which records have been kept, and must be tolerant in its cataloguing of missing information and incomplete data when present.

The difficulty in digitising the collection and the time it takes to accurately do this is immense, and relies on dedicated volunteers. The way the organisation uses volunteers with commercial interests in the data is a mutually beneficial way for the collection to worked on for digital preservation, and a good example of working with partner organisations for the public good. The importance of meta data for information retrieval and creating systems to allow easier access for patrons also is difficult. The new website shown demonstrated that as the records are not uniform in their cataloguing, and individual items are not necessarily recorded, even with digital access, a great deal of skill and understanding of the process of storing items is needed to access the collection.

As I have no experience in the archiving and preservation area understanding how the documents can be used in various research projects, and how documents can reveal so much about everyday life over time was really great. In terms of my school library, it reminded me to not forget to provide links for students to public institutions for their own research and information discovery.

William Angliss Institute of TAFE

The Institute is a specialist learning and training centre for the food, tourism, hospitality and event sectors and as such the Learning Resource Centre’s (LRC) services and resources reflected the need to cater for VET courses through to higher education, a range of ages languages and cultural backgrounds.

The LRC provides services and resources typical of most educational institutions including: information literacy programs, research skills, courses on plagiarism, online Libguides and tutorials etc. What was apparent is that government funding cuts had affected staffing, hours of operation, capital improvements, acquisitions and collection development, and morale. Grants had enabled the LRC to install RFID technology and a mobile technology pod, which basically was a closed pod used for quiet work, but none of this had changed circulation statistics or encouraged use of the collection. This led me to think that sometimes money given in grants, and regular budget money, can be wasted if not targeted into clear areas of need, and sometimes trendy new technology is really not necessary to enable access; adequate staffing and relevant and up to date resources will do that on their own.

As the Institute was moving towards offering a range of higher degrees I found it very interesting how the LRC was going to adapt to support academic staff in their own research and course delivery. It was noted that two university liaison librarians had been employed in recent times to support the program, but as the Institute suffers from cuts in funding, resourcing these new areas with academic resources may be limited.

As I have never attended a TAFE institution I found it interesting to see a targeted collection servicing a narrow field of interest. The Special Collection of culinary items in the archive areas was particularly enlightening to see how important a specialist library can be to keep heritage items in niche areas.

University of Melbourne Archives

The core purpose for the archive is to keep records of the University of Melbourne and to be a collection archive to support research. The range of archival material was fascinating and the way formats dictated storage and access was new to me. As this facility is not bound by legislation to keep everything, they are free to transfer items to more suitable institutions that can better restore and share. The archive had a lot of material never opened since being acquired. Cataloguing and digitisation is slow and costs money, and I found it interesting that volunteers were not used as much due to privacy and university restrictions.

The issue of who owns the material, who has copyright, who dictates access and who is responsible for preservation, is important to understand. It was explained that if the archive has ownership of the material they are liable for any defamatory actions, and thus are conscious of sensitive material having restricted or no access for periods of time to combat this. Security and privacy are paramount. Historically there were loose arrangements with organisations to archive such things as business reports, and confusion over rights and responsibilities, management rights etc. seemed to be an ongoing issue.

A problem highlighted during the tour was the struggle to get knowledge of the collection existence out in the public, beyond academic researchers. As the name is associated with the university it is assumed that only university records are kept there, the varied nature of the holdings is not immediately assumed.

This site, similar to PROV, has revealed to me the importance of legacy and preserving items for future research, and how historical items can be excellent teaching tools and prompters of curiosity in students. For this reason, I will be ensuring my students have links and connections with organisations like this from our school library Libguides, and try to encourage more critical thinking and sourcing of primary source material.

Southbank Library at BOYD

This facility is run by the City of Melbourne, and is one branch of the library service, serving residents in urban areas. The library is one aspect of the service provided, as the site is a community hub for residents in the Southbank areas providing family and health support, spaces for community groups to meet, art spaces, and a place for recreation and relaxing. As with other public libraries, the space is just as important as the collection, with many not borrowing, but using Wi-Fi and equipment and accessing assistance and programs.

This facility is an excellent example of responding to community needs, in this case a demographic of mainly 18-35 year olds, highly educated with good literacy skills. This group also has high digital literacy skills so many e-resources are available. Traditional library programs, such as research skills for example are not necessary. The collection offerings are relevant and up to date, fed by a healthy budget, and are organised by area of interest and then in Dewey order, all branches using the same system to simply inter-library loans and consistency for patrons. Targeting resources to the needs of the community is paramount. This service reflects the huge need for library services and public connection spaces in new areas of development. The Boyd building is small but can provide so much for hundreds of people in the neighbourhood surrounding it.

It was apparent the access to the collection was of utmost importance in this service. Signage was clear and prolific, and great thought had gone into how patrons browse and find new material, and this informed the physical layout and presentation of the space. Circulation statistics indicate that the collection is more utilised when presented this way.

This site has made me reflect on the presentation of my library, particularly the signage and layout. Making the physical space more akin to a bookshop, more outfacing print books, and genrefying the non-fiction may be suitable for my students and increase use of the non-fiction collection.

FINAL REFLECTION ON OVERALL EXPERIENCE

The study visit has definitely confirmed my own thoughts that I need to broaden my library experience outside of my school library in order to develop professional skills and understanding. My school library is suffering because I do not have the answers or experience to move it forward with confidence. I have secured a placement at a public library and I am looking forward to immersing myself into a range of different areas, particularly collection management, access and archives. I have also put myself forward to do library relief in two other schools in order to get an insight to how other school libraries operate and to be mentored by more experience professional teacher librarians. I am a believer in constantly improving and striving to be better. This study visit has been very beneficial to see what the possibilities are, what the benchmark is for a professional working in the field and where I am currently in my own practice.

The importance of good recruitment and positive staffing was very evident during the study tour. The collaborative nature of librarianship, working in teams and with the public, demands that one must like working with people. Allowing and supporting staff to up skill, follow passions and harnessing their skills and personalities is imperative. Often I was reminded of the ETL504 TL as Leader unit, especially when visiting a site where staff were happy and productive. These sites had obvious good leaders and this positive atmosphere trickled down to the services that those institutions provided.

All the sites visited had a clear core purpose and were responding to their patrons with targeted collections and services. Responding to community needs, demographics and changing communities all relies on knowing your clientele through research and feedback from patrons. This data informs policies, preferred access to collections, services and programs and procedures. The collection must be constantly reviewed, weeded and adapted to meet new areas of interest in order to stay relevant. The importance of libraries to be a community hub and space for children, families, migrants, students, homeless people, the elderly etc. was reinforced to me during this visit. Libraries provide equity to resources, technology and assistance and the space provided is just as important to some as the resources located in it.

Careful and deliberate design and layout of spaces was one of the most important areas for me to ponder during the visit. The effect of the physical layout and how the collection was organised to maximise access has me moving towards some major changes in my school library. The visit to MLC particularly demonstrated the importance of methodically planning and identifying what skills and behaviours are desired in students, before any changes should be embarked on. Signage, zoning of collections, tone of the physical layout, placement of furniture and organisation of the digital content, are all things I am going to focus on.